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D.Amarbold: ‘Leaving One’s Cane at an Ovoo Portends Leaning On It Again’

By M.ZOLJARGAL

Below is an interview from the Daily News Newspaper, with D.Amarbold, the director of the Department of Nature and Environment of the Gandan Tegchilen Monastery. A PDF guide to their work can be found on arcworld [dot] org and is titled: Mongolian Buddhists Protecting Nature (2009).
-The Gandan Tegchilen Monastery has established a special Department of Nature and Environment. What’s the purpose of the department?

 

-Our mother nature is being greatly ruined due to the wrongful actions of humankind. Our department started operating three years ago, aiming to have our Monastery contribute towards the protection of nature. We have been organizing an annual meeting called ‘Compassion’ within all the monasteries and monks ever since. Thus, we had formulated an eight-year plan for Buddhists towards protecting our nature and have started to implement it.

-Can you talk about the projects you have conducted on nature protection? What’s the purpose of the annual meeting?
-We have been working in various directions. Of course, we work to raise the proper awareness on nature preservation. Planting greenery, using less plastic items and saving more electricity and water at our Gandan Tegchilen Monastery have all been part of our work too. Monasteries in all provinces are planting a great deal of trees. Each province—except for Bayan-Ulgii, has established its own Unit of Nature and the Environment and therefore numerous courses have been organized. For instance, monks attending to the Ovoo Worship can now explain and teach others about the Ovoo and the proper treatment towards nature those gathered at the worship site, unlike in the past.
-Have trees been planted at Gandan Tegchilen Monastery?
-Yes. We planted 3000 trees of small and medium in size at our monastery in 2011. About 60 percent of them have grown, as people damage trees. Generally, the more humankind destroys our mother nature, the more suffering awaits us. These wrongful doings from humans brings about a direct aftermath.
-What kinds of virtue would come to a person who plants trees and works hard to protect one’s Mother Nature, according to the Buddhist doctrine?
-Virtue follows good deeds. It comes inevitably to those who try their best to preserve nature and save animals. There’s karma within Buddhism. If you do something right, good thing will come to you. Likewise, if you do a wrongful deed, misfortune will follow you in return. The person who plants trees, protects nature and serves offerings to it gets rejuvenated.
-I heard that Gandan Tegchilen Monastery is cooperating on the woods restoration work of the Tuul River. Is it true?
-A living individual is the foundation of life. Planting trees at the source of the river is a way to refresh the water of the river. We are cooperating with the Ikh Ust Uul NGO on planting trees at the source of the river Tuul. The plantation work at the source of the river Tuul is set to start on September 25th. We will join in the project and coax nature by performing rituals.
-What punishments will come in return to those who have caused the rivers and streams to dry up or who have cut down a great number of trees?
-Those that cut down trees will soon have to lean on canes. Every wrong deed will come back to you—in many ways.
-Will the Gandan Tegchilen Monastery plant more trees this year?
-Yes, we will be planting trees this autumn. We are also set to hold our annual meeting at the Erdenezuu Monastery, formulating the one-year plan for our actions to be performed. We will travel through the provinces as well this autumn as we have received many invitations to deliver speeches on the protection of nature. We have delivered speeches on the subject of mining and rehabilitation work to the residents of two soums in the Dornogovi Province in July. As people have appreciated our speeches, we will continue this work.
-I heard that you conducted an event named ‘Khadag’ (A holy silk scarf). Can you talk about this?
-Tying khadags in trees, putting them everywhere or leaving them at Ovoos (Shamanistic cairns which serve mainly as religious sites used in worship of the mountains and the sky) are very wrong. The inappropriate use of the khadag has gotten out of hand. In recent years, khadags have been made with nylon threads, not with the original and traditional silk threads. Thus, khadags nowadays get tightened a great deal when it rains. The khadags tied in trees can even get stuck in the trees and blocks their flow of nutrients and water, which nourishes the trees. This causes the trees to die of course. We have picked some 30 sacks of khadags from the Bogd Mountain woods. A great number of animals are dying, getting stuck in those khadags tied in the trees. Khadags must not be left at Ovoos either. Because the material of the khadags never gets absorbed into the soil as they erode, they also pollute the environment massively.
Another wrongful action is where people tie khadags in their vehicles when going to a funeral. Such a tradition has never existed in Mongolia. People must not disgrace the khadag like this.
-People don’t usually take khadags which are tied in trees off. It won’t bring misfortune to take them off to protect nature and rescue the trees? Is that right?
-It will bring nothing but virtue. Taking khadags off from the trees means you are relieving the trees from their sufferings. People can pick khadags off and burn them or give them to the Gandan Tegchilen Monastery. We tell our guards to take the khadags if anyone brings them. We may put them in stupas if they are reasonable in quality and burn the greatly eroded khadags after performing specific rituals on them. There were a great number of khadags tied around our monastery, and we continually picked them off. Thus, people are not tying khadags as much as they used to these days. The khadag symbolizes respect. Therefore, it should be used when greeting elders, moving to a new dwelling or asking for the hand of a bride (Mongolian traditional ceremony in which the groom’s honored relatives and family members visit the bride’s parents and receives the official consent from them).
-Mongolians leave many items at Ovoos, such as canes. What’s more, they leave a lot of trash near the Ovoos. This is indeed a wrong thing to do, isn’t it?
-Yes. The Ovoo is a holy place. Thus, Mongolians used to erect Ovoos with the holiest things such as books and treatises before. We have a long tradition of offering only dairy products and milk to Ovoos. Our ancestors never offered alcohol or meats to it. Now, people are even leaving their canes. This portends that the person who has left their cane at the Ovoo will have to use the cane again and again. So, people must never leave their cane at Ovoos. Also, there are lots of empty vodka bottles at Ovoos. These bottles do not serve as offerings, but only as things to ruin nature. When someone leaves an empty vodka bottle it means you’re offering an empty thing to a holy Ovoo. Would it be considered nice if someone were to give you an empty bottle of vodka? It’s exactly the same situation.
Mongolians consider whistling at home to bring misfortune. Likewise, the empty vodka bottles left at Ovoos always make an unpleasant noise, which is considered to be a bad omen. I want to warn people through the newspaper to never leave empty vodka bottles at Ovoos.

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